Almanac Footy History: The Goalpost Final

 

The Goalpost Final

by Shane Johnson

 

On a beautiful sunny spring day in 1967 our family hopped in our apple-green Mini Minor to make the thirteen-mile jaunt from our dairy farm in the district of Flowerdale into Wynyard. We then drove another few miles along the coast to Burnie to watch the final game of footy for the year.

The game couldn’t be finished.

Expectations were high as we sped through the rolling green hills of north-west Tasmania with Bass Strait on our left. We were off to watch our side, the Wynyard Cats, take on the North Hobart Robins, or Redlegs as we knew them, for the Tasmanian state premiership. I was thirteen.

The state premiership was a big deal in Tassie in those days. There were three main competitions, based around Hobart (the South), Launceston (the North) and the North West Coast, where we lived.

The simple goal was to win your local premiership. But if you won that, you had a chance to win the state title, which was a massive prize, especially if it involved knocking off those heathens from the South. It was very tribal. Us against them!

During the mid-’60s seasons, Wynyard town had been turned on its ear by their new coach, a bloke by the name of John Coughlan. Big ‘Stout’ or ‘Coggo’ had emigrated from the mainland, where he played with Oakleigh in the VFA. Off the field, he ran the milk bar on Wynyard’s main street. On the field, he played at full-forward. He was about six foot. He had a crew cut and a barrel chest. He ran in very straight lines and pity help any poor bastard who got in his way. He certainly captured the public imagination!

Coggo gave the town purpose and pride. A real leader! He was the name on everyone’s lips in the town of 4500, and in the broader community, and the young players would have followed him to the end of the earth. He was a real character in a time when local footy was massive in Tasmania.

His pre-match speeches were the stuff of legend. If you wanted to hear him talk you had to get into the rooms by three-quarter time in the seconds and wait patiently packed in like sardines. The aroma of liniment, oranges, grass clippings, mud, Juicy Fruit, resin and cigarette smoke wafted around under the low ceiling like a warm, calming mist.

The hairs on the back of my neck stood up every time I was in there.

Besides coaching Wynyard, Coggo was famous for getting a perfect score (90) from judges Bruce Andrew, Thorold Merrett and Jim Cleary with a stab pass when representing Tasmania in the Craven A championship kick on Channel 7’s World of Sport.  After footy, Coughlan became a Labor member in the Tassie parliament.

Una Parkinson and her son Jeffrey were loyal Wynyard supporters. They could put the fear of God in you. Una’s umbrella was used more often for clouting opposition players and supporters than it was for keeping the elements at bay, while it was Jeffrey’s job to take the two bob out to Coggo each week for the toss of the coin. In those days it was conducted close to the fence.

Coughlan got Wynyard to the North West Football Union grand final where we beat arch-rivals Cooee by six goals, 13.7 (85) to 7.7 (49), at Devonport. It was our second premiership. The first one had come in 1952.

After tea that evening, Dad took me into town to the Railway Institute Hall to see the whole town celebrating. There were lots of big blokes in footy jumpers pulled over civvies, drinking a bloody lot of beer. The girls drank Marsala and Coke, green ginger and lemonade or Pimms.

The twos had also greeted the judge that day so it was a double celebration.

In the South, the North Hobart Redlegs had finished last in the Tasmanian Football League in ’66 and then recruited Geelong great John Devine as their captain-coach for ’67.

The Redlegs started their season slowly. Devine was serving a suspension from his last VFL game. After eight weeks the Redlegs had one win and a draw but in a turnaround they won nine of the last eleven to finish fourth.

They then beat New Norfolk, Clarence and Glenorchy by five, nine and fifteen points respectively to win the grand final. It was their 21st TFL flag. ‘Deadlegs’ Devine was a hero!

While Wynyard had never played in a state final, it was to be North Hobart’s eighteenth appearance. They’d already won eleven.

The Redlegs travelled to the Coast by train!

Devine was a huge personality. A few years later when I was living in Hobart I played in a basketball team with him, in a team called the Celtics. I’m not telling anyone who knows John anything when I say he was a bloody fierce competitor.

In that same side was a priest from St Virgil’s College. One evening an opponent hurled the basketball into the face of our cleric. Now Deadlegs had kids attending St Virgil’s and took umbrage at the maltreatment of the padre. He stepped up, bang, and dropped the bloke like a bag of spuds, his false teeth spilling onto the court in three pieces.

With his basketball career terminated he could concentrate on other things.

Deadlegs shared similarities with Coggo – he was tough, barrel-chested, six foot, covered in oil, ran through brick walls, all of that stuff you associate with the guns of those days. Off the field, he ran a pub.

I played footy for Hobart in 1973, and was lucky enough to play on North Hobart’s slippery full-forward David ‘Dickie’ Collins. Dickie was skinny-ish. He wore long sleeves, he had dark hair and a touch of magic. I enjoyed playing on him very much. The young buck against the wily veteran. Can’t remember the result but probably got my pants pulled down!

Dickie Collins also played a key role in the Goalpost Final in ’67.

Phillip ‘Stotty’ Stott, who was a year ahead of me at school, was also involved that day. As a junior footballer, Stotty was an erratic, swooping half-forward who could be magnificent but more often than not gave away silly free kicks.

He could kick either foot. Drop kicks were his specialty. The good ones flew majestically through the air like the drop kicks of legendary Richmond full-back Freddy Swift. The bad ones were shockers, worm-burners of the lowest order.

The venue for the 1967 state decider was West Park Oval in Burnie. The famous ground sits right on Bass Strait. It runs east-west, is surrounded by a bike track, and is exposed to the elements. It gets very windy there.

The oval is famous for the Burnie New Year’s Day Sports Carnival, featuring professional running, cycling and woodchopping. It can be a bleak place in the footy season but that last day in September ’67 was a great day for footy.

Mum and my sister Kim settled into the main stand at the ‘Park’. I can’t remember where Dad watched it but I watched with a mate on the bike track next to the tent that the assistant coaches and the bench players were sitting in.

The game was to be umpired, if you could call it that, by Jack Pilgrim from the Northern Tasmanian Football Association. He was supposed to be a neutral but there was some talk that he was Devine’s brother-in-law.

North Hobart won the toss and kicked with a four-goal westerly breeze to the town end.

From the time Jack put leather to turf, the pace was a cracker, as you would expect. The Cats defence, led by Phil ‘Ding Dong’ Dell and David Cox (father of Jamie), was under enormous pressure.

My most vivid memory is of Coughlan (in the No.1 navy and white Wynyard guernsey) and ruck-rover Devine (in the No.3 navy and red North Hobart jumper) lining one another up right in front of the main stand. It is still one of the most brutal clashes, if not the most brutal clash, I have ever seen at the footy.

They clashed like two runaway bulls. The crowd of 8000 roared as one.

I couldn’t believe it. Coggo had been split. Our leader was wounded, with claret streaming from his eye. We hadn’t seen that before.

Devine lay there for a few seconds – clearly unsettled – then rose gingerly, shook himself and returned to the fray.

North had eleven shots at goal with the wind in the first quarter and led by nineteen points at the break, 3.8 (26) to 1.1 (7). Wynyard had scored their first major deep in time-on.

The Cats settled into the contest with the breeze in the second quarter. They hit the front seven minutes in and went on to kick 8.6 for the term to lead by twenty points at the main interval, 9.7 (61) to 5.11 (41).  Ruckman Leon Clarke was outstanding. Stout and Tony ‘Goose’ West were dangerous forwards.

North dominated the third stanza, with Devine clearly best afield. He kicked a couple and had a hand in three others. Pilgrim lost control a little in this term and there were several nasty clashes.

Cats small men Kevin ‘Doola’ King and John ‘Scratcher’ Neal (uncle of Robert) were star rovers for Tasmania during the late ’60s. The Redlegs were targeting Doola.

It had become a willing affair. North went into the break for oranges with a fourteen-point lead. North Hobart 11.17 (83) to 10.9 (69).

Then the wind dropped.

The Cats kicked the first two of the last stanza. Devine kicked a controversial fifth after a mark that should have been paid to Dell. Just the same, Devine had been magnificent. Coughlan had kicked only one goal but had been a strong, creative forward.

Goose West, the mercurial left-footed half-forward star, kicked his sixth for the Cats at the twenty-minute mark to level the scores. It was really on.

It is nip and tuck. Many brave players hurl themselves at the cherry. Wynyard hit the front with a behind.

A rushed behind to the Redlegs!

Rugged Dale Templar kicks another behind for the Cats.

We’re in front by a point. The siren must go soon.

Templar concedes a free to Devine.

I’m that excited. I’ve spent most of the afternoon standing next to nineteenth man Malcolm ‘Tutty’ Bugg, a beautiful exponent of the torpedo punt, but now Tutty has gone on to the field to replace Tony Andrews.

Scores of kids are sitting on the fence directly in front of the timekeeper’s box.

The timekeeper is Terry ‘Razor’ Hynes. The siren has never been particularly strong.

Devine goes back for his kick. He gets under it.

I am distracted to my right. I hear the siren sound. Kids start to stream on to the ground.

Dickie Collins from North marks about thirty yards out, just as I am running on to the ground to celebrate the mighty Cats’ win.

“You beauty!”

But it becomes clear that Pilgrim hasn’t heard the siren and has (rightly) paid the mark because as we all know the game ain’t over until he blows his whistle and raises his arms in the air to signify the end of hostilities.

Soon, there is a big crowd on the ground.

Ironically, Collins has hardly touched the ball all match, having been given a bath by Ding Dong Dell.

Devine tells Dickie not to take his kick until an area has been cleared.

Confusion reigns!

The umpires and coppers manage to clear a path for Dickie to have his shot at goal. He is set to take his shot when Pilgrim says he’s not on the right line and he won’t allow it. He pushes Dickie around. The crowd closes in some more.

And then it happens!

First, one of the goal posts starts to shake and wobble. The posts are aluminium sleeves in socket housings. Down she comes. It is very funny. I can’t believe my eyes!

I don’t see who pulls the first post down but it’s strongly rumoured that Ulverstone coach Casey Lawrence, the brother of the great Tasmanian and St Kilda player Barry Lawrence, is heavily involved.  Also at the scene is Ray Walker, the Footscray 73-gamer who is captain-coach of Burnie. Another in the vicinity is Cooee star Harold ‘Tiger’ Dowling, the doyen of cycling commentators along the Coast.

By this stage there are about 3000 on the playing surface.

Superintendent Mackey is the local boss-copper. He is off duty and in civvies. Even so, he attempts to take control of the situation, assisting his uniformed colleagues, before walking into a stiffener from a local identity, who doesn’t want to miss an opportunity amid the confusion to get square with the Super.

Soon enough the second goalpost vibrates and descends and then of course the behind posts come down as well. Poor old Dickie is left with nothing to shoot at. He is last seen leaving the ground with the Ross Faulkner tucked up his long sleeve jumper (still got it sitting on the mantelpiece apparently!) about the same time as Phil ‘Stotty’ Stott, the great Stottavagni, is seen scarpering from the ground with a goalpost tucked under his wing.

Stotty heads for safe land in front of the grandstand only to be confronted by my Mum, who says: “You shouldn’t have done that.”

Stotty replies in very colourful and specific language, suggesting that she must be a North Hobart supporter.

Mum is most upset. Kim, who is eight, thinks she’s going to rip Stotty’s head off.

The next day, the coppers caught North Hobart players and supporters trying to strap one of the goalposts to the side of the Tasman Limited train to take it back to the South.

There was much debate over what should happen. Coughlan was quoted in the newspapers saying that the Cats were prepared to replay the game in a cow paddock or on the beach.

North Hobart were not keen.

In the end it was decided that it would be “no result”.

The events of 30 September 1967 will live forever in my memory. It was not only the amazing scenes after the game. Until then the state final was the highest standard of footy I had witnessed. So quick and tough. I just loved it.

I know one thing. The siren did go before Dickie Collins took the mark and morally that makes it the Cats by a point.

Wynyard 13.14 (92) defeated North Hobart 12.19 (91). State premiers! The match has been made a member of the Tasmanian Football Hall of Fame.

 

Wynyard             1.1        9.7        10.9            13.14    (92)  

North Hobart  3.8        5.11      11.17          12.19    (91)

Goalkickers

Wynyard    West 6; Templar 2; Atkins, Clarke, King, Coughlan, Neal.

North Hobart   Devine 5; Graham 2; Dwyer, Collins, Woolley, Mills, Arnold.

Best

Wynyard    Dell, Clarke, Cox, West, King, Wilson, Neal.

North Hobart   Devine, Graham, Mills, Brakey, Smith, Deayton, Hawkins.

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About Shane Johnson

Footy afficiando who has worked professionaly in the industry for 29 years on and off

Comments

  1. Dr Goatboat says:

    Absolute ripper of a yarn…..its why it’s the game we love!! And remember the Craven A comp well….in Adelaide a lot of the hired interstate guns eg Tom Grlsich (sic) were Rothmans reps, replete with blazers and the crest when working places like the Royal Show!

  2. What a great story and so well told. We here in SA can only dream of such activity – our best being a post sawn down after a Grand Final loss by those thickheads from West Adelaide. And 8,000 at the game, memories. Well written Shane and thank you.

  3. Dr Goatboat says:

    Although about 1970 the goal posts from adelaide oval did end up on campus at Adelaide Uni, but wasnt during a match. It was part of Prosh Week shenanigans

  4. Thanks DR GB and Bucko….Dad used to call me Bucko as in…..”Get that grin off ya face Bucko!”
    Appreciate the kind words…the 67 match is certainly part of footy folklore in the Apple Isle…they actually had the 50 year reunion a few weeks back.

  5. A great read! I’ve not long moved up to the Coast from down South and it’s clear that a difference of opinion is still prevalent to this day! I’ve since learned that Coghlan was looked up to as a real God of the game up here, much like Devine was at North Hobart I’m assuming?

  6. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says:

    I caught Dickie Collins retelling this story on Grandstand yesterday. It was funny that he shoved the ball up his jumper to protect it and that he still has it in his possession.

  7. Brilliant story

  8. Fantastic yarn Shane. As the adage goes, ‘truth is stranger than fiction.’

    I notice you mentioned that Coughlan became an ALP politician in Tasmania,so did Devine. Peas in a pod.

    In our contemporary world with the standardisation of sport into the required formula of the sporting industry this could never happen. Great to reminisce about when footy was a sport,not a corporate entity.

    Glen!

  9. Graham McColm says:

    WOW Johnno that is a wonderful and terrific recollection – you are a great story teller mate and i have witnessed that several times both verbally and written. remember that famous book you penned some time ago. I dont know how you have such a clear recollection. AND … Bucko … did you know that the original and real knickname for famous brisbane broncos player Steve Renouf in NOT Pearl but Bucko. Macca

  10. Sorry Graham and Shane, my Bucko comes directly from my surname, Buxton. Not exactly rocket science or comedic brilliance I fear !!

  11. Terrifically told…..thankyou.
    I remember as a kid we had travelled all the way from Smithton for the big game.
    I can clearly recall amidst the chaotic scenes afterwards some of the goalposts being carried
    down the main beach as we left the carpark .
    Please keep them coming .
    Cheers

  12. E.regnans says:

    What a beauty.
    Super cast of characters, story wonderfully told…
    And the version I heard at a North Fitzroy Arms Tassie lunch set the scene for this reading very well.
    Classic.

  13. John Schier says:

    Good recollections there Johnno. I was nearly 15 at the time listening to it on the radio at Falmouth on Tassies East Coast. My mother was an extremely passionate Scottsdale supporter and never missed Saturday’s direct broadcast while she cooked, churned butter etc., and I agree the state final play off was important to have state wide bragging rights.

  14. Athol Hodgetts says:

    Great stuff Shane, Well done
    Cheers
    Athol

  15. Chris Aulich says:

    Great story to capture the drama, Shane.
    The ground was well known for its flukey wind playing a part in many matches. I remember the 1964 state grand final between Cooee and Scottsdale when the ball clearly went out of bounds but then blew back in to the advantage of Cooee. As a devoted Scottsdale boy we wus definitely robbed as Cooee went on to win narrowly!!

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